Flea Prevention & Treatment
Fleas and other parasites migrate towards the unhealthiest of individuals. In a family of dogs and cats, it’s typically the oldest or most ill animals that attract the most fleas. Because of this, it makes sense to ensure your pet is in tip-top health. Commercial pet foods have dismal proportions of B-vitamins, vitamin C and other antioxidants. Simply adding nutritional yeast will give him or her a good supply of B-vitamins (*don’t give if they have yeast allergies). A cat can be given one teaspoon of nutritional yeast mixed with their food once a day, and a large dog can get one tablespoon. Consider preparing homemade cooked, or raw food and adding supplements with antioxidants and omega acid support. There’s nothing fleas hate more than a pet who’s fed a diet of nutritious homemade foods! Since many of my patients are prescribed a specific homemade diet to help treat chronic disease, I rarely see fleas in my practice.
Many people give garlic to their pets to help in deterring fleas, but raw, cooked, and even powdered garlic is toxic to pets, especially cats. However, very small amounts can be helpful. I do sometimes prescribe garlic – in small amounts – to specific patients without anemia, or liver problems. But my recommended dose is a fraction of what many people give. I usually recommend a sliver no bigger than the end of a toothpick three times a week for a small dog. In general, I do not recommend garlic for flea prevention since there are safer ways to prevent fleas.
The best preventive measure is to clean and vacuum the home, and launder all beds and linens. Even hardwood floors can harbor fleas, since they reproduce well in the tiny cracks. Using a metal flea comb with tightly spaced teeth works better than plastic ones in pulling off fleas and flea dirt. “Flea dirt” shows as black specks that are often located towards the base of the tail, and consist of the animal’s digested blood that the fleas have defecated onto the animal. You can distinguish flea dirt (sounds better than flea poop) from other dirt by soaking a white paper towel with water and rubbing the dirt into the towel. If it’s flea dirt, there will be a reddish-brown color to the moistened dirt. If you comb regularly, you’ll know if there’s a problem before it becomes a crisis.
Fleas reproduce very quickly! Each female flea can lay up to 300 eggs at once. Within three weeks, female offspring can lay eggs and the cycle continues and compounds to a greater degree. Fleas have become resistant to spot-on treatments (e.g., Advantage or Frontline), but they can never be resistant to desiccation products. This is because the drying properties of desiccation products like Fleago, Borax and Fleabusters kill the flea through drying the exoskeleton of the insect at all life cycles. Spot-on products, like Advantage and Frontline, kill fleas with hepatotoxic and neurotoxic chemicals, which can be dangerous to apply to animals, or get on your own skin. This is why the manufacturers’ instructions state that the product should not come in contact with human skin, so gloves should be worn. Also be careful with the newer oral treatments (pills, tablets, capsules) for fleas. These products can have significant adverse side effects, including death. If you have a real infestation and cannot get it under control holistically, use an older spot-on instead. I’ll sometimes recommend Advantage in late summer, but only if fleas become a significant problem in our area.
Using essential oil products such as cedar, or rosemary oil may be somewhat helpful, but I do not recommend applying any essential oil to a cat. There have been instances of cats dying from tea tree oil applications, because they licked off the oils and ingested dangerous levels. In general, I approach the treatment and prevention of fleas from the inside out with optimum nutrition and the use of desiccation products in the environment. Treating the environment should not be overlooked, or dismissed because fleas spend 95% of their time in the environment (your home and yard), and only 5% is actually spent on their host (your animal). I’ve also found that because people tend to feed dogs a better diet than cats, cats are often the ones bringing fleas into the home and spreading them to the dogs.